A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Out With the Old, In With the Heresy

The New World of Consumer Research

By Cliff Courtney

People make decisions on impulse. They decide what to buy with their hearts, not with their heads. So if you think for a second that you can quantify the emotional triggers of consumer behavior – the mysterious “why” people buy what they do – with traditional research, then perhaps it would be better to stand in a lightning field with a glass bottle and take your best shot.

The fact is, the only way to understand what makes people tick is studying them while they’re ticking, and that calls for dogma heresy. Specifically, in the same way that buzz or word of mouth is now an actionable media tactic, research, too, can integrate consumers and researchers in a more organic way.

Consider consumer hijacks, which allow you to take a customer who’s about to use your competitor’s brand – a restaurant or a store, for example – and incentivize that customer to sample your brand instead. Now you can capture real-time data from a rejecter. Or Red Light Project’s trademarked Ethnocepts, a hybrid of ethnographic research and intercepts that capture consumer insights from peer-to-peer dialogs instead of the more stilted consumer-to-researcher conversation. (The old clipboard has a nasty habit of turning into a barrier).

Also consider quality/quantity hybrids that allow you to collect real-time quantities in the file with tablets and smartphones. Finally, think differently about customer satisfaction surveys, where brands still rely on receipt-based web links – and yes, in some cases telephone-based systems – to gather data.

Data from consumers about meals they ate 30 days earlier are ineffective. Can you even remember what you had for dinner last night? The better way is real-time data collection, once again at the moment of truth, using SMS or QR codes for instant feedback and giving your customer an on-the-spot, redeemable incentive.

It is time to get heretical and demand more imaginative methods to research consumer behavior, because if you’re not measuring the moment of truth, you’re missing the truth altogether.
Cliff Courtney is currently the chief strategy officer for Zimmerman Advertising, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. For more information, visit www.zadv.com.


Final Genetic Nondiscrimination Rules Took Effect in January

A Hidden Risk for Retail

By Susan Childers North

Smart retailers will periodically take a step back to contemplate their overall risk footprints. But naturally, the focus during such exercises tends to be on those risks that seem most immediate – fighting “shrinkage” by sticky-fingered employees, say, or finding ways to lower the number of lawsuits filed against the chain. Nonetheless, routine occurrences in retail – things like a manager asking a job candidate to fill out a medical questionnaire, or perhaps just walking in on a break-room conversation in which an employee gripes about her health – carry a hidden risk.

In January, the final provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 went into effect for employers with 15 or more employees. The legislation was passed amid heightened fears that genetic testing might result in discrimination in areas like employment and health insurance. Data covered under the act include medical information about fetuses, results of genetic tests taken by employees or their relatives, and family medical histories.

Under GINA, it is unlawful for employers to use genetic information as the basis for any form of employment-related discrimination. The regulations bar employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information about applicants or employees. How might a retail business receive such information in the first place?

Many job candidates are asked to fill out medical questionnaires or undergo exams, potentially yielding genetic information about candidates and their families. If an employee needs to take a medical leave, the retailer might receive genetic information through the required documentation. Likewise, medical and fitness tests administered through employer-sponsored wellness and fitness programs also can yield genetic information. Of course, a manager could certainly run across genetic information simply by walking in on that break-room chat.

Fortunately, GINA does provide for certain exceptions. For example:

• An employer will not be in violation if it inadvertently requests or receives genetic information about an employee or their family members. To satisfy this exception, employers must include specific language set forth in the regulations on its forms used to obtain medical information.
• An employer may receive genetic information as part of its voluntary wellness program, so long as the individual in question provides a knowing and voluntary written authorization.
• No GINA violation will exist if an employer requests family medical history to comply with certification provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act, comparable state laws and employer policies that permit the use of sick leave to care for oneself or a family member.

Retailers should keep all medical/genetic data about their employees separate from other information and strictly confidential. Last year, plaintiffs filed 245 cases under GINA, and this will likely increase in 2012. These regulations allow individuals to sue in federal court and to recover compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees. Retailers should review hiring policies and procedures, and evaluate all of their medical forms to assure compliance with GINA.

Veteran employment attorney Susan Childers North is a shareholder in the Richmond and Williamsburg, Va., offices of the national law firm LeClairRyan (www.leclairryan.com). She is also a co-chair of the firm’s Retail Industry Team.

The Evolution of the Omni-Channel

By Frank Riso

Retailing has evolved from single channel to multichannel. Now, multichannel is evolving further into the omni-channel, leveraging various customer touchpoints including mobile, social, kiosks, online, in-store, etc., to create a seamless customer experience that presents new opportunities for even more sophisticated targeting.

According to Motorola Solutions’ annual holiday shopper survey, retailers need to continue to address the needs of omni-channel shoppers. Online purchases swelled by more than 18 percent compared to 2010, and 63 percent of surveyed shoppers with smartphones downloaded some type of shopping application last year.

While this new model presents an opportunity, it also comes with an increasingly complex shopping experience that is changing consumers’ expectations and behaviors almost daily. Using the latest mobile devices, shoppers now have the ability to research, compare prices and make purchasing decisions while in-store, at home or on the go. Customers are more empowered than ever as they use smart devices to control where they get their information and whether or not they share their insights with others.

In order to survive, traditional retailers must embrace omni-channel retailing. They must turn shopping into an entertaining, exciting and emotionally engaging experience by blending the physical with the digital. The retailers who will gain an edge are those that take advantage of the latest mobile technologies.

Many retailers are incorporating innovative mobile solutions to help drive loyalty and convenience, while improving operations and the overall shopping experience. These cross-channel solutions include everything from inventory management solutions, integrated communication tools, self-service devices, personal kiosks and personal shopping devices.

With the right combination of technology, retailers can share, record and analyze data in order to evaluate and better understand buying behaviors. This knowledge can help fuel improvements online or in-store, resulting in fewer missed sales. In addition, the right self-service tools can provide customers with the information-rich experience of online shopping and even facilitate the checkout process.

The omni-channel is still evolving, and what we are seeing today is only the beginning. Technology is the enabler, and it will continue to change the fundamentals of retail. As we have seen, it has the power to reshape customers’ minds and influence how retailers construct their operations models. The retailer that can embrace technology and understand its tech-savvy shoppers will be the retailer that generates loyalty while increasing sales.

Read more about customer solutions for retail at www.motorolasolutions.com.

Frank Riso is the senior director of global retail solutions at Motorola Solutions.

Jurassic Park and The Lost World of Consumer Research

By Cliff Courtney

Why are we still doing the same research we’ve done for the last 50 years?

Eight strangers face each other around a table. The room is bland, except for a two-way mirror in the back that spans the entire wall. A pleasant enough moderator asks about a brand.

Let the post-rationalization begin! The consumers struggle to give intelligent responses to unanswerable questions. Why did you choose the Prego over the Ragu? How do you pick out a pair of pants? Is Chili’s salad healthier than Applebee’s salad? How do you feel about radial tires?

The consumers eyeball each other. This one is attracted to that one and is angling to make an impression. Another is a blowhard. Yet another is hesitant to speak up and another just agrees with the alpha in the room. Predictable group dynamics. And they all post-rationalize, trying to analyze decisions that they really made on impulse weeks, perhaps months earlier.

Welcome to the outdated, outmoded world of consumer research, i.e. Jurassic Park, where even many of America’s largest brands make billion-dollar decisions based on a handful of focus groups just like this one.

This is not entirely about the vilification of focus groups – they actually do have a place when certain group dynamics work in your favor. But more than 70 percent of consumer decisions are made at retail, at the shelf, where it matters. Nobody reaches for their wallet in a focus group, and that means measuring what happens at the moment of truth is all that truly matters.

By all means, whether you find value in intercepts, ethnographies or more modern methods that utilize “professional strangers” who mingle with consumers, make sure you qualify before you quantify. (After all, you can’t field a quantitative survey without knowing what to ask.) But if your research firm resorts to focus groups – even with jarfuls of M&Ms – or believes that calling home phones for a quaint survey is still a good idea – all from the same dusty playbook of traditional methods – alert your local paleontologist. Dinosaurs are on the loose.

Cliff Courtney is the chief strategy officer for Zimmerman Advertising, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. For more information, visit www.zadv.com.